Thoughts on teen smoking

Published 10:48 pm Friday, February 22, 2019

It’s probably something nobody ever thought they’d see in the land of the gold-leafed plant, but I for one am glad the Virginia General Assembly voted to raise the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

I lost my dad to lung cancer when he was 60 years old. He had started smoking at age 14 and smoked — heavily, most of the time — for 38 years until he quit at age 52.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “a vast array of data suggests that early age of smoking onset enhances the risk for development of lung cancer in adulthood.” In other words, according to this study, the earlier you start smoking, the greater your risk of lung cancer compared to someone who smoked the same amount but started a few years later.

Email newsletter signup

My dad was a native of Hampton, and he got his first cigarettes by bumming them from the construction workers building the Hampton Coliseum in the summer of 1968, when he would ride his bicycle over there to watch the fascinating process of building such a large building.

It’s always been my belief that the young age at which my dad started smoking strongly contributed to his lung cancer. He never could have imagined as a young teenager that those cigarettes would cause his death decades later, only six weeks before he would have walked his only daughter down the aisle.

Clearly, age-limit laws don’t prevent kids from getting their hands on cigarettes or other tobacco products. But it’s my hope that this new law — combined with greater awareness of the harmful effects of tobacco products — will keep at least a few kids from taking up the habit as a teenager like my dad did. If they don’t start young, perhaps they’ll never start at all.

The driving force of this legislation was the vaping epidemic among youngsters. Portrayed as a healthy alternative to smoking, it has in fact been proven to lead to smoking traditional cigarettes. It still contains harmful chemicals, and the health risks aren’t yet fully known.

According to the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, in 2018 nearly 12 percent of high-schoolers were using e-cigarettes. This came at the same time that smoking of traditional cigarettes by teens had hit an all-time low — 6.5 percent.

Sadly, that milestone just meant more had transitioned to another harmful product, the e-cigarettes.

I applaud all of the legislators who voted for this bill and the governor for signing it into law.